Sweden develops FFS next-gen fighter, Gripen-E remains in service

Sweden is making significant strides in developing its next-generation fighter jet, ready to stand side by side with the venerable Swedish flagship SAAB JAS 39 Gripen-E. This ambitious project was detailed by the Italian publication RID, citing a presentation by Peter Nilsson, who heads the Future Programs division at Saab. 

JAS-39 Gripen soars in Asia taking advantage of Philippine edge
Photo credit: SAAB

“During a press briefing, Peter Nilsson, the head of Saab’s Future Programs unit, unveiled the initial details of the next-generation air combat system. This innovative system will introduce a new lightweight fighter set.”

Sources say the new fighter concept is part of the Future Fighter System [FFS] program. SAAB confirmed to BulgarianMilitary.com that there is still a period in which the next-generation fighter concept will be chosen. It can be in different weight classes. For example, it could be in the weight class of the still-developed Russian Su-75 Checkmate, but as SAAB says – this is just one of many possible options where the FFS could be positioned.

Russian Su-75 Checkmate will never enter serial production
Photo credit: Sandboxx

Conceptual study

In March, BulgarianMilitary.com highlighted a significant development by SAAB. Spanish sources later revealed that Sweden is advancing towards creating its own next-generation fighter jet. These sources confirmed that the Swedish defense procurement organization, FMV, is in the midst of a concept study for their future Swedish fighter jet.

SAAB has been entrusted with carrying out “conceptual studies of future combat systems,” as stated by the company. This initiative will last through this year and into the next. The studies encompass “concept studies of manned and unmanned solutions from a systems perspective, technology development, and demonstrations.” SAAB will be collaborating with FMV, the Swedish Armed Forces, the Swedish Defense Research Agency, GKN Aerospace, and other industrial partners on this project. 

Swedish SAAB Gripen C/D will get a newly renovated engine software
Photo credit: SAAB

In the past, Sweden, together with Italy, participated in the UK-led Tempest program. However, Sweden strategically decided to exit the initiative when it evolved into the Global Combat Air Program [GCAP], thereby leaving its former partners and Japan to continue the project. Unlike the GCAP, the Future Combat Air System [FCAS] is a European initiative aimed at developing a sixth-generation fighter jet. This ambitious project sees equal commitment from Germany, France, and Spain. 

Long timeline stretching

Stockholm, having exited a UK-led initiative, now faces a long timeline stretching to 2031 to decide its next steps. Will Sweden join one of the two existing programs, opt for a product from an external source, or embark on crafting its own solution?

Sweden's Gripen gets new EW, comm- and reconnaissance systems
Photo credit: SAAB

The prospect of creating a homegrown fighter is being explored by Saab and GKN through their latest studies. Sweden is no stranger to success in this arena; their homegrown Gripen fighter has made its mark, standing strong against Europe’s collaborative Eurofighter – a venture shared by Germany, the UK, Italy, and Spain – and France’s Rafale. 

Gripen is “struggling” on the market

Give Ukraine a Gripen, the F-16 can't give what the Swede can
Photo credit: RSAF

Currently, Gripen-E is striving to capture new international markets, yet it falls short of the desired success. It’s not due to any flaws in the aircraft itself—quite the opposite, it’s excellent. However, fierce competition from the F-16 and the introduction of Block 70/72, along with Washington’s influence among budget-conscious countries, pose significant challenges.

Even so, Sweden has a knack for creativity. A prime example is the recent establishment of a new plant in Brazil, coupled with technology sharing with partner nations. There’s even speculation that if Sweden decides to develop a 6th-generation fighter, it could outpace the other three European contenders. Gripen is specifically designed to combat Russian fighters. When it comes to creating a genuine air threat to Russia’s Sukhoi and Mikoyan, Gripen stands out. 

Only time will reveal the outcomes of these high-stakes projects. Nonetheless, a consistent chorus of experts suggests that success will come from cooperation on a single European project for a sixth-generation fighter.

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